Teaching college students

Some students go to college without a direction about their career or motivate to learn anything as they do not know how to study in a new environment which differs from high school. To help them motivate to learn and be successful in their career, I often do the following:

On the first day of class, I clearly explain my Active teaching method, my expectations, what types of assessment I will use (i..e, number of weekly quizzes, monthly tests, homework, reading assignments etc.) as well as the classroom’s policy, course syllabus. I often have a lengthy discussion with the students to ensure that they understand the rules and answer questions they may have. I want my students to feel comfortable, and encourage them to express their ideas, ask questions. I also ask them: “What do you expect to learn in this course and why? This question helps me to understand their interest and their goals.

For each lecture, I begin by explaining the value of the materials and how they relate to the student’s interest (i.e. why they need to learn the materials and how they are connected to the skills that students need for their future career etc.) It is important for students to understand the value of the material and connecting it to their own lives as it relates to their educational and career goals. This will helps motivate them to learn more and pay attention to the course materials.

To ensure the students are learning, at the beginning of each class, I often ask: “How is your understanding of the course that we discussed in the last lecture? Are there any questions or concerns you have about the materials before we start with new material? By checking with students on a regular basis shows my concern for their success in the course. Students will feel more comfortable asking questions on what they do not understand or to clarify something to learn more.

I do not like to have a long lecture but only summarize important information. I expect the students to read the materials that I post on the course website BEFORE coming to class so the class time can be used for discussions to connect the theory to the practice. By having reading assignments, homework, and weekly quizzes I encourage students to spend more time to learn and learn deeper beyond their current abilities. It also helps students to understand the ‘WHY” as it relates to their “WHAT” in their learning. I believe that it is important for students to “UNDERSTAND” the value of having a strong foundation of the course materials so that they can build in their future courses as they continue their education journey.

Since many first-year students are immature and not motivate in their learning. I focus more on the responsibility by explain to them my responsibility as a professor as well as their responsibility in my course. I mention about responsibility on a regular basis to ensure that they will succeed in my course. I want them to know that for everything they do, there is a consequence and they are responsible for their own learning and their future. I believe my approach to teaching does influence their attitudes toward the class as well as their behavior, and their learning. By openly discuss many things with students, I express my excitement about the course materials and spend the time to discuss students’ concerns, as well as their future career. Most students told me that their view of this approach have increased their motivation to learn more. A few years ago, a student wrote to me: “On the first day of class, listening to your explanations and requirements, many of us thought that we may want to switch the course to an “easier” professor. We talked to students who took your course previously, all of them said that they love your course and encouraged us to stay. Now, after completing the course, we cannot wait to take another course from you.” No one says teaching first-year students is easy but by establish clear policies for the course and explain your expectations to students can create a learning environment in which the professor and students understand each other about their responsibility for the course.

I believe the best way to motivate students to learn is to challenge them with your enthusiasm. I do not like to lecture much but prefer to ask questions and having the class to discuss. In the beginning, most students do not like this approach because they used to sit and listen passively when they were in high school. Asking them to answer questions forces them to leave their comfortable situation and put them into an active learning mode that require them to be prepared BEFORE the class. Students need to know that I support them and want them to succeed. In other words, by breaking their passive attitude and forcing them to develop an active role will help them to progress much faster and it should be a part of effective college teaching. It is a new skill that students must develop to master difficult material that they will encounter later in their lives. By challenging them to go further and deeper will enable an active learning classroom. I also believe this teaching method is an important aspect of learning because it provides encouragement, and assistance for students to develop higher-order learning skills where they can integrate new information with their current understanding and past experiences. By continuing to ask questions also helps us, people who teach, to maintain enthusiasm for our teaching and make most of us continue to learn more instead of just reading from the textbooks. The class discussion also forces the professor to be mindful of what has changed in the technology world and what are the new innovations that students need to know.

We are living in the 21st century where so many technologies are changing fast, we need to change the approach to teaching by creating a challenging learning environment for our students. We need to express our enthusiasm for the materials that we teach, show our concern for the student, and make a difference in student’s learning to help them to do well in their future career.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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